Hannaford Supermarkets has taken trans fats out of its store-brand foods, joining a global effort to eliminate the artificial ingredient from modern diets.

The Scarborough-based grocery chain modified the recipes of 295 products over the past year to remove the fats, which help in the production and preservation of processed foods but clog the arteries of people who eat them.

Hannaford’s move follows similar phase-outs and bans by food markets and restaurants as health-conscious consumers try to avoid the so-called bad fat.

“The good news is, this is happening nationally. Consumers are really demanding this. Manufacturers are all looking for alternatives,” said Julie Greene, director of Hannaford’s healthy living program.

The company operates 174 stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Hannaford’s success appears to show that eliminating trans fats doesn’t have to involve higher prices or significant recipe changes.

Greene said that the effort didn’t increase Hannaford’s costs, and that the company has not received a single comment from a consumer who noticed the change.

There can still be traces of trans fats in Hannaford foods. Federal rules allow a manufacturer to label its food trans fat-free if there are fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

Trans fats are created by infusing oils with hydrogen. The hydrogenated oils are easier to handle, spread and store, and are found in many fried foods and baked goods, such as crackers, peanut butter, potato chips and cookies.

“It’s used because it’s cheap and it makes the food last a long time,” said Brenda Quinn, spokeswoman for the Maine chapter of the American Heart Association. “It’s good for food manufacturers on a financial level, but it’s bad for consumers as far as the cost to their health.”

Trans fats in a person’s diet raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other health problems.

“It’s really a battle to eat healthy,” Quinn said, praising Hannaford’s announcement. “It’s definitely a positive step.”

Restaurants in Maine and beyond have been reducing or eliminating the use of trans fats in fryers and recipes. Several American cities, including New York, have banned the use of trans fats in restaurants. A statewide ban on trans fats in cooking oils took effect in California in January, and national bans have taken effect in Denmark, Switzerland and Austria.

Hannaford had already been helping customers avoid trans fats, in part through its Guiding Stars nutritional guides. The company is also working to reduce sodium levels and offering more gluten-free foods, Greene said.

Other grocery companies have taken aim at trans fats.

Whole Foods Market, which has never used trans fats in its store brands, stopped selling any products containing trans fats in 2003, said Robin Rehfield, a company spokeswoman.

Shaw’s Supermarkets eliminated trans fats from its in-store fryers and bakery products, and has been reducing trans fats in its private brand foods, said Judy Chong, a spokeswoman for the grocery chain.

Nutrition exerts say the gradual phase-out of trans fats is good news for consumers, even if it’s more gradual than they like.

“Companies are realizing that consumers are on to trans fats, but unfortunately they’re still in a lot of foods like french fries and doughnuts” and microwaveable popcorn, said Susan Quimby, a registered licensed dietician and owner of Nutrition Works in Portland.

And, Quimby said, while eliminating trans fats is a positive step, it won’t make those french fries or processed meals good for you.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]